Newsletter – 8 August, 2013



The Alleged Farm News – 8 August, 2013

This weeks share: Thai Basil, Cilantro, Cucumbers, Eggplant, Frisee Endive, 
Garlic, Lettuce, Ailsa Craig Onions, Potatoes, Scallions, 
Squash, Cherry Tomatoes, Yukina Savoy

I hope you will forgive me if the content of this newsletter does not seem entirely right. You see, though I am sending it out to you in August, I am writing it while sitting in a comfortable chair by the wood stove, a cat curled up at my feet, an arctic blast whistling round the chimney and rattling the bare maple branches, a mug of hot cocoa within easy reach. It is January and I have been taken by a fit of good sense. I have set out to finish all the season’s newsletter now, while I have plenty of time on my hands, leaving me free to concentrate on farming during the growing season. True, I can only guess now how the season will go, and it is slightly possible I could be rather far off the mark, making for some confusing comments. But surely the eminently reasonable sense of this undertaking justifies the risk of a little nonsense. And with that, let’s get to it.

What an unusual year we have had. No a single piece of equipment has broken. Usually by this point in the year some number of things large and small would have bent, crumpled, worn down, snapped, fallen off, given out or just plain quit. In an average season the recoil on the weed whacker and at least one of the chain saws would have jammed, requiring at a minimum new springs. The Allis Chalmers G would have burned up another set of spark plugs and probably a battery too, and be having various problems with the transmission or carburetor. The bucket tractor hydraulic hoses would leak. The Ford pickup would require another $2000 dollars of repairs, none of which address that fact that the whole back end is about to rot off. Stirrup hoe heads would be worn away. Rake handles would crack in half. A couple of points on the Perfecta would shear off. The tiller would shed a few tines. The pressure washer would spring a leak and become a low pressure washer. One or another frost free hydrant would fail and have to be dug up. Lightning would blow apart the fence charge. The greenhouse heater would go out and refuse to relight. There would be flat tires and cracked welds and plugged filters and dripping oil and frayed nerves. Usually. But not this year. Hell, we have not even lost any spikes off the transplanter or pins off the mower. In fact, we still have all the lynch pins and harvest knives we started the season with, and though I have not been keeping track it would not surprise me to learn that we have not even had any rubber bands break so far. 

Vegetable Notes: We think of the familiar Italian dark green basil and fat oblong black eggplants as the default versions of these crops. So what you have this week are identified as Thsai basil and Asian eggplant, as though these were unusual variation on the standard form. But both crops originated in India and have been grown far longer in Asia than Europe, hardly surprising given that Asians were refining subtle, sophisticated cuisines centuries before most Europeans had moved beyond gruel and the occasional hunk of roasted meat. But the Italians and their crops got here first and taught us what eggplants and basil should look like before we had any idea there were other options. Not that Thai basil and Asian eggplants are profoundly different from the familiar versions. The Asian eggplants have, I think, a slightly nicer texture when grilled, but I would not wager anything on my ability to tell the difference in a blind test. It is easier to distinguish between the Thai and Genovese basil, though they can be used interchangeably. The Thai basil can also be used to good effect with the cilantro, its natural herb partner. You could put them in a vinaigrette to pour over grilled eggplant, squash and onions,  or toss them with chopped cucumber and scallion and a little rice vinegar. 

I would not be willing to bet on my ability to tell the difference between our various potato varieties in a blind test either. It is not that you cannot tell them apart. I just have not trained my palate sufficiently. A more serious potato connoisseur would have no trouble. Not that taste is really the distinguishing factor. It is more a matter of texture. The Satinas in this week’s share, for instance, area bit firmer and waxier than the Red Norlands, meaning they are excellent sliced, tossed with oil and salt (and smoked paprika if you happen to have any, which you absolutely should) and roasted at 400 degrees until crunchy on the outside and creamy within. 

I am not sure this is directly related to vegetables, but we have a new record for the number of frogs in a puddle: 10.

How do I explain this remarkable run of good luck? It just seems to be one of those years. The first inkling I got was when the seed company had every variety I ordered. I order a lot of varieties of seed, and in a normal year two or three or maybe more of them will be unavailable, usually because of a crop failure, though sometimes they have sold out even though I place the order in early January. For some reason, it has been incredibly hard to get red onion seeds in recent years. But not this year.

And when I got the order it was all packed correctly and I found I had made no ordering errors, such as, let’s say, marking the wrong box on the 9,500-line spread sheet order form and ending up with 50,000 seeds for a new bok choi variety that turns out not to grow very well. This year every box was marked correctly and we have just the right number of just the right bok choi seeds.

Things have pretty well just hummed along smoothly ever since. The seeds we’ve sown have all come up. The weeds have been timid. The state program to round up all the deer and ship them off to parts unknown has really helped. The weather has acted as if it has some serious stake in our success. The groundhog burrowing under our seedling house sent a note of apology and carefully filled in his tunnel. The wasps, though hardly amiable, are mellow. The flea beetles asked themselves why we can’t all just get along and switched their diet from brassicas to pigweed and purslane; they report that it has really helped with their allergies and they have a lot more energy and focus. The tiny toads, always a farm favorite, have further enhanced their standing by eating all of the cucumber beetles. Powdery mildew turned up much early, was overcome by embarrassment at this social faux pas, and has not been seen since. Our harvest knives turned out to be made of self-sharpening steel. Recent advances in sock technology have rendered them water and dirt repellant and practically indestructible, though also strangely comfortable. It turns out bending over, crouching and lifting heavy objects are good for your back.

What a season. I guess I am just lucky. Or maybe luck has nothing to do with it and all this stems from my winter efforts. Maybe there is an important lesson here: good things happen when to you  when you get your work done early. Maybe this is the season I get when I write my newsletters ahead of time.